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The New England Magazine, Volume 1, No. 5, Bay State Monthly, Volume 4, No. 5, May, 1886 by Various

The New England Magazine, Volume 1, No. 5, Bay State Monthly, Volume 4, No. 5, May, 1886 by Various

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A ROMANCE OF THE OLDEN TIME.

By Marjorie Daw.

“Spin, spin, Clotho, spin,” hummed a gay, masculine voice. “Methinks, fair Mistress
Dorris, even the Fates themselves could not be more devoted to their task than are you to that busy little
wheel.”

Pretty Dorris Gordon glanced up from her seat by the long window opening into the cool, grassy orchard,
where the sun played hide-and-seek with the shadows and then came back to rest caressingly on her bent head
crowned with its own sunshine of chestnut hair, but she stayed neither busy hand nor foot as she
answered,—

“Since your mighty mind is bent on mythological comparisons, Capt. L’Estrange, ’tis
but a poor compliment to a fair lady when a gallant officer compares her to three old Fates,—unless he
qualifies the remark somewhat. Could you not add something about my fairy fingers weaving the destiny of
man? I fear your[Pg 464] quick French wits have been dulled by that cold British bullet in your arm.”

“Nay, ’tis not the British bullet, but yourself, ma belle cousine, that bewilders my French wits
and inspires me instead with American patriotism,” is the quick retort.

“Far better than your last speech,” laughs Dorris, taking from her belt a deep-red rose fastened
by a true-love knot of blue ribbon to a snowy white bud. “So much better that I will bestow on you my
colors. See! the red, white, and blue! Wilt wear them like a brave and gallant knight?”

“They shall be like Henri of Navarre’s plume: ever foremost in the struggle for right,”
the young officer answered, bending to kiss the little hand which held the proffered treasure. “I well
know no empty compliment will please you as that promise, and indeed its sincerity will soon be tested, for
my arm is so much better that I am ready for action, and next week I am off.”

“So soon?” cried Dorris. “Oh, that I were a man, to fight for the stars and
stripes!”

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DORRIS’S HERO.

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“I am always sure to find the words here set to the tune of Yankee Doodle,” breaks in a new
voice with a light laugh. “Still, you deserve a laurel wreath for that enthusiastic wish. Will a humble
offering of roses be unworthy of notice, fair Goddess of Liberty?” and a shower of sweet-scented
blossoms fell over Dorris’ head and shoulders.

“O Mr. Endicott! goddesses are not crowned so unceremoniously. Imagine Paris pelting Venus with
that apple that made so much trouble,” says Dorris, glancing up half angrily, half mirthfully, at the tall
intruder leaning so easily against the window. “I am almost minded to make you hold this skein of
yarn, as a penance, while I wind it.”

“Alas! she descends from a goddess to the most prosaic of mortals,” sighs Endicott; then
springing through the low window, “I am ready to obey; but that skein is imposing. What is its
destiny?”

“And why, oh, why this inseparable devotion to that unfeeling wheel?” adds
L’Estrange. “I came for a stroll, and, voilà! she cannot leave her spinning. Is it a trousseau, that
must be ready when some lover comes home from the war?”

Dorris’s bright face saddens suddenly, the perfect mouth loses[Pg 465] its arch curves, and a shadow
creeps into the brown eyes as the long lashes droop over them.

“The skein is to be knit into socks for the soldiers,” she says simply; “and as for my
wheel, I love it because it is connected with one who has been more to me than any lover. ’Tis but a
homely story, but I will tell it to such old friends as you. I need not tell you that I have a brother in the army,
but you do not—you cannot—know how dear he is to me, how he has taken the place of both
father and mother. It seems as if brother and sister had never been bound by ties so close, and when this war
came upon us I watched him day by day, knowing well the thought in his heart, and trembling for what I knew
must come; and yet when Rex came to me and said, ‘Little sister, my country needs me: can you be
brave, and bear it, if I go?’ oh, then it seemed to me that I could not bear it! But I thought of the brave
Lafayette leaving his home and loved ones to fight for us, a foreign nation, and my heart smote me that I
could not be willing to offer my mite for my own dear country, and I bade my brother, ‘Go, and
God-speed.’ It was only a few weeks before that he had given me this wheel, and almost his last words
were, as he stood smiling in the door-way, ‘Remember, Dorris, I shall expect to find on my return one
dozen handkerchiefs spun and woven by yourself and that wonderful wheel.’ I have remembered that
careless injunction, and have obeyed it. There lies awaiting his return the pile of snowy linen, but we have not
heard from him for long, long weeks, and sometimes my heart seems breaking, with the constant dread that
haunts it. Do you wonder now that I love my dear little wheel?”

Impulsive, warm-hearted, patriotic Dorris ends with a little sob in her voice, and L’Estrange
welcomes the entrance of the host and hostess of the old-time mansion, as it covers the awkward emotion of
the moment. As he advances to pay his devoirs to them Keith Endicott seizes his opportunity to say softly, as
he bends over the head buried in the now idle hands:—

“Sweet friend, you said you wished you were a man, to fight for the flag; remember, even though
’tis hard, ‘They also serve who only stand and wait.’”

Then, while Dorris tries to change the sob into words, he follows the others into the wide, long hall, where the
breezes, sweeping[Pg 466] in through the open doors at either end, fill the summer air with delicious
coolness, and the scent of roses mingles with that of newly-mown clover. The breezes, too, bring to Dorris
bits of conversation from the hall; but they fall on unheeding ears until an abrupt speech from her uncle claims
her attention.

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DORRIS’S HERO.

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“Endicott,” says his voice, “why don’t you join the army? Such men are being
called for,—young, strong, and able. Why don’t you go?”

Dorris almost holds her breath as she awaits the answer. She scarcely knows how many times she has asked
herself that very question. The answer comes quietly, almost indolently, though she knows that
Endicott’s reticent nature must be annoyed beyond measure.

“Why don’t I? Really, I do not know, sir. Young, strong, and able, an idle fellow enough. I
think it must be because it hurts, and I’m a dreadfully selfish fellow.”

What reply could be made to his careless, easy tones? And the talk drifted smoothly on—the more
smoothly, perhaps, since no one believed a word that he said, for Keith Endicott ere this had earned the name
of the soul of bravery and honor; but Dorris dropped to the ground the roses that had lain all this time in her
lap, as if an unseen thorn had wounded her, and, rising, went away to her own cosey room, where she flung
herself into an arm-chair and fell into a deep study, looking from her window through the trees to where the
blue waters of the Charles gleamed and rippled in the sunlight. It was a lovely spot, this home of her aunt in
the suburbs of Boston,—a home which Dorris had called her own since her parents’ death,
years before, when she and her brother had been confided to her aunt’s tender care. And Dorris loved
every spot of this rambling, old, colonial mansion, from its spacious ballroom, and its wide porches, to her
own room, with its faded tapestry hangings, its great fireplace and bright brass andirons, its hanging
book-shelves with their store of well-chosen volumes, the English titles varied here and there by a Latin or
French classic (for Dorris had studied with her brother, and was quite proficient in both languages; indeed,
L’Estrange delighted in calling her a bas-bleu in a vain attempt to tease her), its tall, brass-handled
secretary with its secret drawer, which Dorris called so tantalizing, because she had no secret to hide in its[Pg
467] depths, and the eight-day clock ticking away in the corner, which now struck the hour, waking Dorris
from her revery into words:—

“I wonder why he does not go: he is no coward; it is not that. I verily believe it is as he said: he is
selfish, and does not want the trouble. How he laughs, and disbelieves in everybody, even himself! and what a
narrow life he must lead! And yet, sometimes I think better, as I needs must, of my old playmate. Just now he
spoke to me with real feeling, and truly, it was a sweet and comforting thought he offered me. And yet the
other day, after church, when Gen. Brewster spoke so cordially to Henri L’Estrange and Lieut. Allen,
and then bestowed rather a contemptuous glance on Keith,—I mean Mr. Endicott,—I caught him
quoting, under his breath, ‘The world is a farce, and its favors are follies; but farces and follies are very
dear to human hearts.’ I could not help saying, ‘When its favors are well-earned I think they
cease to be follies.’ It was, at the best, bad taste to cavil in that way at Henri, who is so brave and
enthusiastic, and has come all the way from his own and his father’s native France because his
mother’s land needed brave, true men. And he is going away next week; if he could only send us news
of Roy!”

“Dorris!” called her aunt’s voice. “It is quite time you were ready for dinner,
dear. And do you not think you were failing in courtesy to your guests to leave them so abruptly?”

“Cousin Henri has had enough of my society, to-day, Aunt Dorothy, and I’ve no patience with
Keith Endicott; you heard how he answered uncle. But I’ll come in a moment, auntie,”
answers Dorris; and the arm-chair loses its fair occupant.

Quaint, dainty little Dorris! What would not I—I, your great-granddaughter, in this degenerate year of
1885—give to see you just as you looked then, thinking over this and that in a manner not so very
unlike the maidens of this generation! Ah, well! I must perforce content myself with that miniature of you as
“Madam,” in your lavender brocade, with the feathers in your powdered hair, and the row on

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row of pearls about your throat. Very stately and dignified you look there; and yet, Great-grandmother Dorris,
I can see the spice of “innate depravity,” as I doubt not your grave pastor would have called it,
and catch a glimpse of the quick temper and warm heart in those bright eyes and that saucy little nose.

[Pg 468] The evening before Capt. L’Estrange’s departure has come, and a few of the many
friends he has made during his short furlough spent with the Gordons are gathered there to make the last hours
of his stay such as shall afford him pleasant recollections in the future. Dorris makes a charming little hostess
as she flits from room to room, and at last pauses on the porch before a group of three, L’Estrange,
Endicott, and Lieut. Allen, an old friend who is home on sick-leave, who welcome warmly and admiringly the
slight, graceful figure in its white dress, with a bag of red, white, and blue hanging from her dimpled elbow, a
fancy of Dorris, enhanced by the red and white roses and blue forget-me-nots in her hair,—flowers
which she found on her spinning-wheel, with no clew to the giver.

“Mon Capitaine Henri, Aunt Dorothy wants you for a moment,” she says now. “They
are all enjoying themselves, so I came out here to rest. Lieut. Allen,” she adds graciously, as her cousin
disappears, “I am glad that we are to have one representative of the army left after my cousin leaves
us.”

“I thank you, Miss Gordon,” answers the young soldier, “but my stay is limited; you see
I hobble around now with the aid of a crutch. I only wish I could go with your cousin.”

“L’Estrange is in your regiment, is he?” asks Endicott.

“Yes, we fought side by side at Saratoga. You know what a close conflict that was. Such a din of shot
and shell that an order could be scarcely heard in the tumult. It was hot work I can assure you.”

Dorris is leaning forward in breathless interest, and as he pauses asks a characteristic question: “How
did you feel then? What were your thoughts?”

“Well, it was a most absurd thing, but I found myself, though I could scarcely hear my own voice,
repeating a verse from one of the old cavalier ballads:—

“‘We were standing foot to foot, and giving shoot for shoot;
Hot and strong went our volleys at the blue;
We knelt, but not for grace, and the fuse lit up the face
Of the gunner, as the round shot by us flew.’”

Endicott smiles. “But it was a good battle-cry, Allen. I remember your reciting verses at Cambridge in
your college-days,[Pg 469] but it was generally ‘A sonnet to your mistress’
eyebrows,’—some fair one who had conquered your heart for a week perhaps.”

Dorris is not to be diverted from the absorbing topic of ball and bayonet, and returns to the charge.

“But how did you feel when you were wounded?” she asks again.

“Oh, I did not know where I was hit. In the midst of the fight I wondered why I couldn’t move
my left foot; it was like lead in the stirrup, and looking down I saw the mark where the ball had struck, and the
blood following it. It was a little quieter then, so I got the sergeant near me to clip, and ease my foot a little.
But you should have seen L’Estrange: he was wounded then; and when the order came to charge he
rushed on, waving his sword, with the blood dripping from his arm. How the men rushed after him! And when
he came back supporting another poor fellow, and insisting on his being cared for first, you should have heard

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DORRIS’S HERO.

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the men cheer him.”

“And you, Allen,” suggests Endicott,—“how did you get on with that wound of
yours?”

“Well, I was rather faint by the time we were ready to go back to camp; but somebody set me straight
in the saddle when I reeled, and I managed to get back all right.”

“But where was the surgeon all the while?”

“To tell the truth, I was so much better off than most of the poor fellows, Keith, I made him help the
rest. That was all.”

“So you took the chance of enjoying a British surgeon’s tender mercies, for the sake of men,
who, perhaps, could not live anyway. Allen, you always were a good-natured Don Quixote.”

Allen laughed as if he saw something beneath the words which excused their lightness, but Dorris frowned, as
she looked admiringly at the manly fellow so ready to see his comrade’s unselfish bravery, so
unconscious of his own. She often saw the wounded soldier leaning on Endicott’s arm, and their
words seemed grave and earnest, while Endicott’s face seemed for a time to lose its cynical sneers.
And then Dorris had relented, only to harden again at some irreverent words of this incorrigible Keith. A
sharp retort was on her lip now, but she restrained it as L’Estrange once more joined the group, and
the talk drifted into quieter channels, the young soldiers a little graver than usual. At last[Pg 470]
L’Estrange spoke with tender regret of the peaceful scenes he was to leave so soon behind him, and
Endicott answered:—

“Yes; think of all the drives and walks and talks, and all the charms of civilized life you forego, and
then of the camp-life and forced marches, and chances of broken arms and legs, which you endure, and all for
that one sweet virtue,—patriotism.”

This was too much for quick-tempered Dorris. Out flashed her words:—

“Mr. Endicott cares so little for that sweet virtue that he will enjoy your pleasures while you fight his
battles. If you will excuse me now I will return to the parlors;” and with little head proudly erect,
Dorris started to enter the house, entertaining the fond hope that she had at last paid Keith for all his trials of
her patience and patriotism. Alas!

“The best laid plans o’mice and men gang aft a-gley;”

and some one had carelessly left a footstool on the porch, and as Dorris’s foot struck it Endicott was
the one to spring forward and save her from falling. Lifting her eyes to acknowledge the courtesy, she met
such a look of quiet reproach that her “Thank you” came very humbly from so proud a young
lady; and when she reflected on the subject at that trying moment which we have all experienced when we
have regained our temper, and are taking a mental retrospect of the occasion when we very foolishly lost it, it
was in vain that she tried to justify herself by repeating his sneering words. Remembering the look that
followed them, she said, in self-abasement, “I had no right to judge him,” and in her
humiliation avoided meeting him so successfully that for several days after her cousin’s departure she
neither saw nor heard of him, until at last she heard with relief that he had gone away for a short time, on
receiving news of the death of a cousin,—his nearest relative. But when week after week passed, and
Aunt Dorothy had several times wondered aloud what had become of Mr. Endicott, Dorris began to wonder as
well, and to miss the magnetic presence that made him so charming to all; indeed, she discovered, to her own

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DORRIS’S HERO.

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uncontrollable disgust, that she missed him even more than her cousin, whose warm and generous nature had
endeared him to all his new friends.

In the meantime Lieut. Allen called to say farewell to his[Pg 471] former playmate, and the friend of his later
years. What if Dame Rumor said he cherished a latent desire for a nearer title than either of these. Dorris said
they were only firm and true friends; and the tenor of their talk seemed to prove that she was right, for as she
turned from the old-time spinnet, where she had been singing the lovely little serenade of Thomas
Heywood:—

“Pack clouds away, and welcome day;
With night we banish sorrow;
Sweet airs, blow soft; mount, larks, aloft,
To give my love good-morrow.
Wings from the wind to please her mind,
Notes from the lark I’ll borrow;
Bird, plume thy wing, nightingale, sing,
To give my love good-morrow!”

Allen said abruptly, “Dorris, for what are you waiting?”

“Waiting?” repeated Dorris, wonderingly.

“Yes; don’t you remember

“While year by year the suitors come
To find her locked in silence dumb?”

“If it was any one but my old friend Max I should make you a very low courtesy, and say, ‘By
your leave, fair sir, it is a matter of not the slightest consequence to you;’ but I’ll tell you the
truth and nothing but the truth: I’m waiting for my hero, Max.”

“For your hero? Yes; I thought you were. And what is he like? A fairy prince like the Sleeping
Beauty’s?”

“Don’t be satirical: it doesn’t suit you, Max,” retorts Dorris.

“Satirical? I’m in the deepest earnest. Won’t you describe him? I really wish to
know.”

“Well,” began Dorris, “it is not exactly an easy thing to describe an imaginary person.
He is no fairy prince, Max, but a strong and earnest man, a true and noble soul; a man who, for a good cause,
would peril anything, a knight like Bayard of old: sans peur et sans reproche.”

“Do you think you will ever find this ideal?” questions Max.

“No,” is the prompt reply. “If there are such men, I have never met them. But I would
far rather wait for the dim ideal than try the commonplace reality.”

“But is all the reality commonplace? Let me tell you a story,[Pg 472] Dorris; I shall not bore you, for
it is not long: When I joined the army, in the first of the war, I went to tell an old friend, and to take leave of
him. He was a peculiar fellow, seemingly cold, light and satirical, half-sneering at the ardent blaze of

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patriotism that was burning all around him, seeming to have no intention of serving his country in her need.
And yet I knew him to be the truest, noblest, tenderest, and most loyal fellow among all my friends. He
looked at me with real envy, and then exclaimed: ‘I wish to Heaven I could go with you,
Allen!’ and I answered: ‘Why don’t you? I have never asked before because I knew
you had some worthy reason.’ After some hesitation, he began: ‘Because you have never
doubted or questioned me I will tell you why I am here, when every feeling is against my inactivity. You will
keep my secret?’ Of course I promised, and he went on: ‘You know I am very wealthy, Max,
that my income is, for these times, extremely large; but you do not know that, by my grandfather’s
will, the next heir, in case of my death, is my cousin, a man who aids and abets the Tories in every possible
way, a man unscrupulous and unprincipled to the last degree. I have but one life; I might lay it down in my
first battle, and that property, over which I have no control, would be worse than useless to my country. It
would aid her foes, and, much as she needs men, she needs money even more. So I stay here, and put my
income, as fast as I get it, to the national use. You know what my income is. I’ll show you my
expenses’; and he showed me the merest fraction—less than I spend myself, I began to
expostulate on his endurance of suspicion and blame for what might be so nobly explained, but he would only
say, ‘Oh, it would sound quixotic and sentimental; and, after all, what does it matter? I know myself
that I am serving my country to the best of my poor ability.’ But at last, Dorris, he is rewarded, for he
was born to be a soldier; and when, three weeks ago, he received news of the sudden death of that cousin, he
immediately enlisted, and is now serving his country in the way he has so long desired. What do you think of
such a man as he?”

“He is a hero,” answered Dorris, steadily, though a suspicion, quick as a ray of light, had
flashed through her mind as to who this hero was. “A hero as true as any my fancy could paint. Who is
he—this noble friend of yours?”

“Keith Endicott,” is the quiet answer, adding, quickly, as he[Pg 473] rose to take his leave.
“Forgive me, sweet friend, that I could no longer bear that you should do injustice to him, for those
quick words of yours the last evening we were all together have rankled in my heart, as I know they have in
his, ever since.”

Dorris was not too proud to acknowledge when she was in the wrong, and with winning grace she said, as she
gave him her hand:—

“I thank you for the lesson you have taught me, Max. I was wrong to judge him so hardly, but be
assured I will make full amends when we meet again.”

Then the good-bys were said, the good wishes given, and the last of Dorris’s three cavaliers had left
her.

Summer has gone, and snow lies white upon the ground, and we find Dorris seated before the old desk, whose
secret drawer is no longer empty, but holds a faded cluster of roses and forget-me-nots, writing busily in her
diary a record not only of the day’s doings but of the varying emotions which each day brought to life.
The words the busy hand is tracing are these:—

“Jan. 2, 1779. Yesterday was the beginning of the New Year, and as I wondered what it would bring
me,—joy or grief, pleasure or pain,—I saw a carriage come up the drive-way and then stop,
while the driver assisted to the door a figure in a soldier’s uniform. In a moment I was in the hall, and
my arms around my brother—for it was my own bravest Roy. He had often written us, but we received
none of his letters: they were either intercepted or lost. But, oh, how can I forgive myself when I think to
whom I owe my brother’s life! that, when Roy was surrounded by enemies, and desperately wounded,
it was Keith Endicott who rushed to his aid, and, fighting against fearful odds, bore him alive from the field,

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DORRIS’S HERO.

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at the cost of a sabre cut on his own hand. It was he who saw Roy daily in his long struggle with death, and
when that dreadful presence was banished it was he who cared for his safe transportation home, to enjoy the
rest which is the only means of giving him back his old strength and vigor. And Roy almost worships Keith,
as well he may, saying he is the idol of the soldiers, who have dubbed him the hero of the regiment.

“The New Year has truly brought me happiness, for my brother is with me safe once more; our armies
are fast gaining ground, our[Pg 474] victories are more numerous, and hope dawns that the flag of liberty will
yet wave triumphantly over a free and happy nation; and I can once more mingle a song and not a sob with the
busy hum of my wheel.”

Two years have passed; Yorktown has been fought and won, and Dorris’s hopeful words are verified.
The flag of liberty is unfurled over a free and happy nation,—a nation with its history yet before it, with
only its darkest and yet most glorious record traced indelibly on the annals of the world. The New Year has
come again, and Dorris, with her spinning-wheel, is wondering what it will bring her. The door opens
suddenly, and some one announces, “Col. Endicott, Miss Gordon.”

For a moment Dorris loses sight of everything but a tall figure in the quaint Continental uniform, and only
hears the old, light tones say, “Will the fair Goddess of Liberty welcome the soldier as he comes back
from fighting his own battles, as she bade him?”

And Dorris, with a blush for the memory he recalls, bravely confesses her fault and her gratitude, and ends
very humbly, “Can you forgive me, Col. Endicott?” stealing a look up at the grave face.

“Forgive you, dear child! Do you not know that I have loved you all the time? Now that you know I
am a little better than you thought me can you trust me for the rest? Can you love me a little, sweet
Dorris?”

There was no lightness now, only deep, loving tenderness; and Dorris answered trustingly:—

“I have been waiting for my hero, and I have found him, Keith.”

And there we will leave them, while the dancing fire-light shows us the pretty scene beside Dorris’s
dear little spinning-wheel, and the silvery beams of the rising moon bring to Dorris the beginning of a new
and happy life with the advent of a new year.

But ah, Great-grandmother Dorris, stately and demure in your lavender brocade, and your feathered and
powdered hair, do you know you were not so very unlike the Dorrises of to-day, after all? And they have
spinning-wheels, too, with their flax tied with blue ribbons. And think you that these wheels see no romances?
Ah, but they can’t tell them, you know, pretty Grandmother Dorris.

[Pg 475]

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